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Keeping Your Personal Identifiable Information Safe

With vacations and trips “down the shore” coming to an end for the 2021 season, it’s time to get back on schedule and focus on items that may have been placed on the backburner. No matter where you were, we hope you remained alert to prevent opportunists from stealing your Personally Identifiable Information (PII). While you settle back into your normal routine, we also recommend that you review transactions, especially online transactions, to make certain your online accounts or PII were not compromised.

Learning to Identify Possible Fraud: My true story

After my extended family experienced fraud enacted by an in-home care provider, I now perform an internet search on my immediate family, including myself, each quarter. During one search, I learned that I was 65-years old and also 45-years old. My last name was spelled correctly and incorrectly. On some sites, I have a different middle name. My “reputation score” was less than stellar.  Many of the possible relatives listed were not relatives and while I never lived in Tennessee, the internet said I did.

At first, I thought my information, specifically my age, was intertwined with another relative. Today, I am very aware that seeing a wrong age, misspelled names, or wrong locations of where I lived, can be a clue that my personal identifiable information (PII) has been compromised.

Moving To A New State

Protect your household items and your ID.

In order to get a driver’s license when you move to a new state, specific items are required to prove residency status as well as your identity. For me, one of those items was a social security number. A few minutes after my forms and supplemental documents were submitted, I was summoned to the counter. The clerk asked if the social security number was a new number. I explained that this was my number since I was a few months old. Then the employee showed me what their system retrieved when my social security number was entered into their system.

Identity Theft Involves More Than Credit

For over 20 years, a man named Bruno, continuously used my social security number to renew his driver’s license. An additional driver’s license did not show up on my credit report, internet searches or a Google alert.

As I waited at the Department of Motor Vehicles office, the puzzle pieces started to come together. A few months earlier, I received notifications from my health insurance company that my children had other health insurance. I was required to complete a coordination of benefits form. Each time, I would complete the form stating my children did not have other health insurance.

I suddenly recalled when I Googled myself, an online data broker site published a report that I was 25 years older than my actual age. That older age was referring to Bruno, who became eligible for government health benefits, through my social security number. Bruno’s government health benefits triggered the “other insurance” detected by my health insurance company.

When Your Personal Identifiable Information (PII) Is Misused

Below is a list of some of the steps I took to regain my identity:

  • File a report with the local police department. The detective or officer assigned will provide an incident or report number.
  • Contact major credit reporting agencies. Each agency has different policies when it comes to reporting identity theft. You may need the police incident report number in order for the agency to give you free credit monitoring.  

Equifax            1-800-525-6285

Experian          1-888-397-3742

TransUnion     1-800-680-7289

Innovis            1-800-540-2505

  • To report bank fraud or freeze bank accounts:

ChexSystems   1-800-428-9623

Ongoing Reviews of Your Online Reputation

Information on the world wide web changes rapidly. Set aside a date and time to perform a quarterly (or monthly) internet search of your name(s) and include a search for your email address(es), home phone, office phone and cell phone numbers, to see if they are associated with websites you are not familiar with. When you perform a search, give yourself at least 30 minutes if you are searching for a family of four. Visit websites that list details of your online persona including but not limited to White Pages, BeenVerified, peekyou, Spokeo, USIdentify, Intelius, mylife, or Truthfinder. If you find your personal information on data sites, most have opt-out features. Keep in mind that data broker companies are plentiful on the internet.

Set a Google Alert for each family member, including those under the age of 18. A Google Alert will be delivered to you whenever your name appears online. If you have a very common name, you will also receive alerts that do not pertain to you. Also, if your proper name is Robert but you go by Bob, set an alert for Robert Smith and Bob Smith. Fraudsters will use a variety of name combinations including maiden names, hyphenated names, nicknames, or professional names.

WM WISDOM

We recommend expanding your scheduled search efforts to include the first five pages of results and be certain to review any Videos, News, and Images associated with your name(s), email address(es) or phone number(s).

  • Register with the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call registry at https://www.donotcall.gov/ to reduce the number of marketing and spam phone calls. Never provide callers with bank account numbers, credit card numbers, social security numbers or any PII. Hang up and call the business directly or visit in person to verify.
  • Set up an account with the Social Security Administration to review your personal account information at https://www.ssa.gov/

Know Your Online Presence

Keep in mind, identity theft is not just about obtaining fraudulent credit. Stealing an identity can provide access to government benefits such as Medicare, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security benefits, Unemployment benefits, a driver’s license, passport, bank accounts or other forms of identification. When your identity is being shared with others, your online reputation score may also drop. A less than stellar reputation score could damage your chances for workplace advancement, selection for a board of directors or volunteering at a nonprofit.

Perform an internet search, on yourself and family members, on a monthly or quarterly basis to help keep your Personal Identifiable Information (PII) safe.

Children Under 18

Fraudsters are also targeting the PII of children under 18. Any social security number can be compromised and be used for synthetic identity fraud. In 2020, the Federal Reserve Bank defined synthetic identity fraud as something that “occurs when perpetrators combine fictitious and sometimes, real information, such as names and Social Security numbers (SSNs), to create new identities.”

Most young people will not know their social security number was used for fraudulent purposes until they apply for a job or a loan. When you perform an online search, be certain to search for family members of all ages.

The Business of Selling Personal Data

Data is big business, especially personal data. We leave a digital trail whenever we use an app, credit card, or when scrolling through websites to find the perfect place to relax.

Information stored on a public domain or in a public record may be obtained and shared by data brokers. Data brokers compile information obtained from public records, such as information from the purchase or sale of a property or business. Other sources of information can be obtained from voter records, public websites, genealogy sites, social media accounts, phone solicitors, a professional CV on your company website and many more. With so much of our personal information in the public domain, data brokers are able to compile and publish an online registry containing information you may not want shared.   

Doxing

A play on the word “documents,” Merriam Webster describes doxing as slang for when someone publicly identifies or publishes private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge. At this time, data brokers are not breaking the law by publishing your name, address, phone number, email address or any other public record on their website. Depending on your occupation or public persona, you may not want a client, fan or fraudster to find your home address by typing your name into a search engine. Remain alert and Google yourself so you can see what everyone else can see.

WM WISDOM

Be alert.

Discrepancies in your age, locations that do not match to where you lived, unknown relatives, incorrect email addresses or phone numbers are all clues that your PII may be compromised.

As always, we will continue to stay abreast of news and information that we believe is relevant for you and your business.

DISCLAIMER: The WM Update, WM Wednesday Wisdom, WM Daily Update COVID-19, COVID-19 Business Resources, COVID-19 Client News Alerts and other related communications are intended to provide general information, including information regarding legislative COVID-19 relief measures, as of the date of this communication and may reference information from reputable sources. Although our firm has made every reasonable effort to ensure that the information provided is accurate, we make no warranties, expressed or implied, on the information provided. As legislative efforts are still ongoing, we expect that there may be additional guidance and clarification from regulators that may modify some of the provisions in this communication. Some of those modifications may be significant. As such, be aware that this is not a comprehensive analysis of the subject matter covered and is not intended to provide specific recommendations to you or your business with respect to the matters addressed.